Fans of major league baseball are all aflutter about the plans of the Washington Nationals baseball team shutting down one of their best pitchers next month. Nats fans are seeing this as being over protective of the pitcher and hurting the Nationals chances of making and succeeding during the playoffs, a place they haven’t been in many, many decades.
Stephen Strasburg is 13-5 with a 2.90 ERA and an National League best 166 strikeouts this season. And . . . he underwent Tommy John surgery on his elbow less than a year ago. The Nationals best pitcher of this year underwent the same surgery a year earlier and was shut down last year, so the team’s management has a track record in dealing with this issue. And they are looking long term at getting value out of Mr. Strasburg for many years to come.
Strasburg has thrown 133 2/3 innings and Washington has said he will not be allowed to exceed 180 innings pitched, which means he is on pace to be shut down sometime next month, well before the playoffs.
Pundits and fans have come up with all kinds of alternatives to him just being stopped when he reaches this limit: moving to a six man pitching rotation to stretch out his influence, move him to the bull pen as a reliever to stretch out his innings, and make a pinch hitter out of him. All of these are, well, stupid.
Moving to a six man pitching rotation would affect the work routine of all of the Nationals starting pitchers and pitchers are slaves to routine, so this could potentially be disastrous to their effectiveness.
“Pundits and fans have come up with all kinds of alternatives to him just being stopped
when he reaches this limit. All of these are, well, stupid.”
Moving him to the bull pen is idiotic in that bull pen pitchers often have to warm up quickly which puts extra stress on their throwing arms as well as increasing the likelihood of injury. And relief pitchers often have to warm up multiple times for each appearance and relief pitches count, too. Dumb idea.
Strasburg’s primary value to the team is as a dominant pitcher. Using him as a pinch hitter, he is quite a good hitter, simply increases the chance he will injure himself as a hitter or base runner costing them more than they possibly could gain from his hitting.
The solution to the conundrum of “what to do with Stephen Strasburg other than shut him down in September” is obvious if not a little unusual. If they were to stop him from pitching there is no sense in keeping him on the active roster as he would be doing nothing, so presumably another pitcher gets called up to take his innings, if not in his exact spot in the rotation. Or someone gets bumped from reliever to starter and the new guy takes the reliever’s position. The point is that the replacement is less capable that Strasburg.
So, what to do?
Simple, platoon him.
Strasburg’s average start lasts six innings, which means if they were to stop him from pitching in 46 1/3 more innings, he would get 7-8 more starts. Pitching every five days, would mean he would be stopped in 35 days, which according to my calendar is mid-September and the playoffs will not have begun. But, if you call up or promote his replacement now, you could limit Strasburg’s starts to three innings, then call in the replacement pitcher to pitch the other three that Strasburg doesn’t pitch. Likely Strasburg will give his “long relief” guy a bit of a head start, if not a lead to carry forward. Doing this, Strasburg gets 15-16 more starts, at five days per start gives him 77-78 days which takes him well into the third week of October.
“So, what to do? Simple, platoon him.”
He pitches no more than 180 innings, but he makes to the playoffs. Instead of having him 6-7 times and then a replacement 7-8 times you have the team of him and his long reliever for the rest of the season.
And if you are really smart, the “platoon pitcher” is very different pitcher from Strasburg. Instead of the 100 mph fastballs and curveballs the other team prepared for, “Platoon Guy” comes in with an 88 mph fastball plus a variety of changeups, splitters, and sliders. It is not easy to time two pitchers who throw in very different styles.